Greek Nostos and English Nostalgia

Someone asked me to put together a post on nostos. Here’s what I got. I am happy to add anything someone else can find. This is far from exhaustive.

The Greek noun nostos (“homecoming”) is mostly reconstructed as a reflex of a verbal root neomai (“to come or go”) but its semantic range drifts to include ideas of salvation and rescue.

From Beekes’ Etymological Dictionary of Ancient Greek (2010)

nostos beeks

In early Greek poetry, nostos is a song that is about homecoming. On this, see Nagy 1999 [1997], 97; Murnaghan 2002, 147. Douglas Frame (1978) argues that it also means “return to light and life” whereas Anna Bonifazi adds “salvation not death”. For more on the nostoi as a tradition, see the discussion and bibliography in Barker and Christensen 2015. Gregory Nagy surveys the meaning of the term nostos in the Odyssey as return and a song of homecoming in his Ancient Greek Hero in 24 Hours.

In later Greek, the term retained much of this meaning but, as I will show below, it can also mean “sweetness”. The thematic and proverbial power of the poetic tradition seems to have kept this specialized meaning as primary as the language developed.

From E.A. Sophocles “Dictionary of Byzantine Greek”

nostos med

Our English word nostalgia comes from a post-classical Latin compound which has deep resonance with Greek epic, especially Odysseus. Odysseus has thematic associations with algea (neuter plural for algos, “grief, pain”). Our modern meaning of “acute longing for familiar surroundings” or “sentimental longing for a period of the past (OED online)” may draw on ancient poetic associations. A nostos is a return to the home, which is symbolically a return to the past. Ultimately, it is partly a futile wish because neither home nor person (neither the past, nor the rememberer) remain the same.

Nostalgia was originally coined by Johannes Hofer in 1688 for a pathological mental disorder, a type of mania that involved longing for the past. Some modern psychological studies still examine the phenomenon. It has been described as both parafunctional in undermining a sense of well-being and rootedness in the future (Verplanken 2012) and as a useful resource of memory which can help reinforce identity against existential threats (Routledge et al 2012 and Sedikedis and Wildschut 2016).

The ancient etymological dictionaries pretty much provide the same information as the Byzantine Suda:

Suda, Nu 500

“Nostos: The return to home. From the sweetness of a homeland. Or it comes from the giving of flavor. But also “the poets who sang the songs of Return follow Homer to the extent they are capable. It seems that not only one poet composed and wrote the homecoming of the Achaeans, but some others did too.

Νόστος: ἡ οἴκαδε ἐπάνοδος. παρὰ τὸ τῆς πατρίδος ἡδύ.

ἢ ἡ ἀνάδοσις τῆς γεύσεως. καὶ οἱ ποιηταὶ δὲ οἱ τοὺς Νόστους ὑμνήσαντες ἕπονται τῷ ῾Ομήρῳ ἐς ὅσον εἰσὶ δυνατοί. φαίνεται ὅτι οὐ μόνος εἷς εὑρισκόμενος ἔγραψε νόστον ᾿Αχαιῶν, ἀλλὰ καί τινες ἕτεροι.

Nu 501

“Homecoming: in regular use it is “sweetness”, applied to edibles. This comes from the [sweetness] of returning and coming back again home. From the sweetness of your homeland, for nothing is sweeter than your fatherland, according to Homer. From nostos in customary use we also have nostimon, which can mean “pleasant”, “sweet”. And there is a certain god, Eunostos, a divinity of the mill. The poetic term nostos comes from neô [to go], in, for example “now I am not going home.” This means “I do not return” [epanerkhomai]. There is also the form nostô, which provides the compounds palinostô, and aponostô.”

Νόστος: παρὰ τῇ συνηθείᾳ ὁ γλυκασμός, ἐπὶ τῶν ἐδεσμάτων. ὡς ἀπὸ τῆςοἴκαδε ἀνακομιδῆς καὶ ἀναστροφῆς· παρὰ τὸ τῆς πατρίδος γλυκύ. οὐδὲν γὰρ γλύκιον ἧς πατρίδος, καθ’ ῞Ομηρον. ἐκ δὲ τοῦ κατὰ τὴν συνήθειαν νόστου καὶ νόστιμον, τὸ ἡδύ. καὶ Εὔνοστος, θεός τις, φασίν, ἐπιμύλιος. ὁ δὲ ποιητικὸς  νόστος παρὰ τὸ νέω γίνεται. οἷον, νῦν δ’ ἐπεὶ οὐ νέομαι γε. ἤγουν οὐκ ἐπανέρχομαι. ἔστι δὲ καὶ ῥῆμα νοστῶ, οὗ σύνθετα παλινοστῶ καὶ ἀπονοστῶ

 

Some things cited in this post:

Barker, Elton T. E. and Christensen, Joel P. 2015. “Odysseus’s Nostos and the Odyssey’s Nostoi,” in G. Scafoglio, Studies on the Epic Cycle. Rome. 85–110.

Bonifazi, A. 2009. “Inquiring into nostos and its cognates.” American Journal of Philology 130: 481–510.

Frame, Douglas. 1978. The Myth of Return in Early Greek Epic. New Haven.

Murnaghan, Sheila. 2002. “The Trials of Telemachus: Who Was the Odyssey Meant for?” Arethusa 35: 133–153.

Nagy, Gregory. 1979. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Baltimore.

Routledge, Clay, Wildschut Tim, Sedikides, Constantine, Juhl, Jacob, , and  Arndt, Jamie. 2012”The power of the past: Nostalgia as a meaning-making resource.” Memory, 1-9.

Sedikides, Constantine and Wildschut, Tim. 2016. ”Nostalgia: A Bittersweet Emotion that Confers Psychological Health Benefits.” The Wiley Handbook of Positive Clinical  Psychology, 126–136.

Verplanken, Bas. 2012. “When bittersweet turns sour: Adverse effects of nostalgia on habitual worriers.” European Journal of Social Psychology, 42, 285–289.

Terrible, Wonderful Odysseus: The Meanings of his Epithets, His Name(s) and How We Read Him

In the recent poll prompted by Dio Chrysostom’s anecdote of Philip asking which hero Alexander would be, Odysseus won by a bit of a landslide. I can’t say this completely surprises me, but it does trouble me just a little bit. What is it that attracts us to Odysseus?

[I ran an earlier post on the Iliad vs. the Odyssey and their complementarity]

My post and translation also drew some ire because I translated polytropos as “shifty”. It seems that we as a collective are entirely sure about what we think this word means. And, as a result, we are confident in who we think Odysseus is.

This post turns out to be longer than might be ideal, but I am just going to leave it as is. My basic belief, which I get to eventually, is that Odysseus is popular because of his essential polysemy. We think we love Odysseus because we choose an Odysseus we want to love. The important takeaway from this is that such ‘shiftiness” (when it comes to character and reception) is an essential part of his character.

First, a basic assertion: Homer’s version of Odysseus is not the only one. Even as early as the fifth century there were some, well, complaints.

Pindar, Nemean 7.20-21

“I think that the story of Odysseus’ suffering was exaggerated by sweet-worded Homer”

ἐγὼ δὲ πλέον’ ἔλπομαι
λόγον ᾿Οδυσσέος ἢ πάθαν
διὰ τὸν ἁδυεπῆ γενέσθ’ ῞Ομηρον·

In Greek tragedy, Odysseus was far from unproblematic: in Sophocles’ Philoktetes, he is responsible for bullying Neoptolemos into convincing the title character to return to Troy. In the Ajax, he is by no means innocent in the death of Telamon’s son. Euripides has Odysseus as the chief architect of the death of Astyanax. And in the Trojan myths in general, Odysseus (1) tries to avoid going to war, (2) exposes Achilles so that he has to go to war, (3) and frames Palamedes for treason to get back at him for making sure that he went to war. Oh, he is also said to have tried to betray Diomedes and even in the Iliad he takes charge of tricking the Trojan Dolon and ensuring that Diomedes kills a bunch of men in their sleep. (And don’t even try to explain that away by claiming it is not really a part of the Iliad. It is.)

Second, jumping over 2500 years, there is a cognitive link between what we name something and how we expect that element to emerge in stories. So, how we name Odysseus and what we think this name means matters (see also Peradotto 1990 among others on this).

Mark Turner. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: 1996.

Turner 1996, 133: The stories minds tell (the ways in which we interpret the world) are based on roles and character, “formed by backward inference from such a role, according to the folk theory of “the Nature of Things,” otherwise known as “Being Leads to Doing.” In this folk theory, glass shatters because it is brittle and fragile. Water pours because it is liquid. Someone forgives because she is forgiving. A dog guards the house because it is watchful. A fool acts like a fool because he is foolish. In general, doing follows from being; something behaves in a certain way because its being leads it to behave in that way…

Character is a pattern of connections we expect to operate across stories about a particular individual with that character or across stories about a group of individual with that character. People of a particular character are expected to inhabit similar roles in different stories…

[134] A role in one story is not isolated but connects to the same role in other stories…Focus, viewpoint, role and character in narrative imagining give us ways of constructing our own meaning, which is to say, ways of understanding who we are, what it means to be us, to have a particular life. The inability to locate one’s own focus, viewpoint, role, and character with respect to conventional stories of leading a life is thought to be pathological and deeply distressing. It is a principal reason for recommending psychotherapy to people not obviously insane.”

So, there is significance both in how we name Odysseus and how we modify that name. Let’s take up his epithets first. I received a good deal of complaining about my translation of Odysseus’ famous epithet as “shifty”. He actually only gets called polytropos rarely in the Odyssey. But he does receive a surplus of epithets that point to a manifold nature.

Here are some other epithets.

Homer, Odyssey: Epithets of Odysseus

“Sing to me, Muse, of the man of many ways...”
1.1     ῎Ανδρα μοι ἔννεπε, Μοῦσα, πολύτροπον, ὃς μάλα πολλὰ cf. 10.330

“Send many-minded Odysseus to his own home”
1.83  νοστῆσαι ᾿Οδυσῆα πολύφρονα ὅνδε δόμονδε,

“[Odysseus] will know how to return, since he is a man of many-devices
1.205 φράσσεται ὥς κε νέηται, ἐπεὶ πολυμήχανός ἐστιν.

“Divine-raced, son of Laertes, many-deviced Odysseus
5.203 “διογενὲς Λαερτιάδη, πολυμήχαν’ ᾿Οδυσσεῦ,

“If very-clever Odysseus were in these rooms again…”
4.763 εἴ ποτέ τοι πολύμητις ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ᾿Οδυσσεὺς

“So she spoke, and much-enduring, shining Odysseus shivered”
5.171     ὣς φάτο, ῥίγησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς [see 13.250]

“And you, many-pained old man, since a god brought you my way…”
14.386 καὶ σύ, γέρον πολυπενθές, ἐπεί σέ μοι ἤγαγε δαίμων,

“They would not conquer me. I am truly much-enduring
18.319 οὔ τί με νικήσουσι· πολυτλήμων δὲ μάλ’ εἰμί.”

“…I am a man of many-sorrows…”
19.118 μνησαμένῳ· μάλα δ’ εἰμὶ πολύστονος· οὐδέ τί με χρὴ

“…he is much-prayed for…”
19.404 παιδὸς παιδὶ φίλῳ· πολυάρητος δέ τοί ἐστι.”

Odysseus is only sometimes called “many-wayed”. He is also marked out for his suffering.  Odysseus’ is not just about his own suffering–as Erwin Cook shows, part of the point of being a ‘hero’ in ancient Greek myth and poetry is that you have a capacity to suffer and to mete out suffering.

But what might polytropos even mean? Many on twitter think they know, but the ancients were not unanimous.

Schol. ad Demosthenes. Orat. 20

“For a man of many ways changes himself in accordance with the nature of the matters at hand.”

πολύτροπος γὰρ ὁ ἀνὴρ καὶ πρὸς τὴν τῶν πραγμά-των φύσιν συμμεταβάλλεται.

Schol. ad Odysseam 1.1; .50 ex

“The problem: Polytropos [“many-wayed”] Antisthenes claims that Homer doesn’t praise Odysseus as much as he criticizes him when he calls him polytropos. He didn’t make Achilles and Ajax polytropoi, but they were direct [‘simple’] and noble. Nor did he make Nestor the wise tricky, by Zeus, and devious in character—he simply advised Agamemnon and the rest and if he had anything good to counsel, he would not stand apart keeping it hidden; in the manner Achilles showed that he believed the man the same as death “who says one thing but hides another in his thoughts.”

᾿Απορία. πολύτροπον] οὐκ ἐπαινεῖν φησιν ᾿Αντισθένης ῞Ομηρον τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα μᾶλλον ἢ ψέγειν, λέγοντα αὐτὸν πολύτροπον. οὐκ οὖν τὸν ᾿Αχιλλέα καὶ τὸν Αἴαντα πολυτρόπους πεποιηκέναι, ἀλλ’ ἁπλοῦς καὶ γεννάδας· οὐδὲ τὸν Νέστορα τὸν σοφὸν οὐ μὰ Δία δόλιον καὶ παλίμβολον τὸ ἦθος, ἀλλ’ ἁπλῶς τε ᾿Αγαμέμνονι συνόντα καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ἅπασι, καὶ εἰς τὸ στρατόπεδον εἴ τι ἀγαθὸν εἶχε συμβουλεύοντα καὶ οὐκ ἀποκρυπτόμενον τοσοῦτον ἀπεῖχε τοιοῦτον τρόπον ἀποδέχεσθαι ὁ ᾿Αχιλλεὺς ὡς ἐχθρὸν ἡγεῖσθαι ὁμοίως τῷ θανάτῳ ἐκεῖνον “ὅς χ’ ἕτερον μὲν κεύθει ἐνὶ φρεσὶν, ἄλλο δὲ εἴπῃ” (Il. ι, 313.).

“Antisthenes in interpreting this asks “why, then, is wretched Odysseus called polytropos? Really, this is the way to mark him out as wise. Isn’t it true that his manner never indicates his character, but that instead it signals his use of speech? The man who has a character difficult to penetrate is well-turned. These sorts of inventions of words are tropes/ways/manners

λύων οὖν ὁ ᾿Αντισθένης φησὶ, Τί οὖν; ἆρά γε πονηρὸς ὁ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ὅτι πολύτροπος ἐκλήθη; καὶ μὴν διότι σοφὸς οὕτως αὐτὸν προσείρηκε. μήποτε οὖν ὁ τρόπος τὸ μέν τι σημαίνει τὸ ἦθος, τὸ δέ τι σημαίνει τὴν τοῦ λόγου χρῆσιν; εὔτροπος γὰρ ἀνὴρ ὁ τὸ ἦθος ἔχων εἰς τὸ εὖ τετραμμένον· τρόποι δὲ λόγων αἱ ποιαὶ πλάσεις.

Plato, Hippias Minor 366a

Soc. “People who are many-wayed are deceptive because of their foolishness and thoughtlessness, or because of wickedness and some thought?

Hippias: Most of all, because of wickedness and intelligence.

Soc. So, it seems, they are really intelligent.

Hip. Yes, by Zeus, wicked smart.

Soc. And men who are smart—are they ignorant of what they do or do they understand it?

Hip. They really understand what they are doing. For this reason, they also do evil.

Soc. So, is it the ignorant or the wise who know these things which they understand?

Hip. The wise know these very things, how to deceive.

—ΣΩ. Πολύτροποι δ’ εἰσὶ καὶ ἀπατεῶνες ὑπὸ ἠλιθιότητος καὶ ἀφροσύνης, ἢ ὑπὸ πανουργίας καὶ φρονήσεώς τινος;

—ΙΠ. ῾Υπὸ πανουργίας πάντων μάλιστα καὶ φρονήσεως.

—ΣΩ. Φρόνιμοι μὲν ἄρα εἰσίν, ὡς ἔοικεν.

—ΙΠ. Ναὶ μὰ Δία, λίαν γε.

—ΣΩ. Φρόνιμοι δὲ ὄντες οὐκ ἐπίστανται ὅτι ποιοῦσιν, ἢ ἐπίστανται; —

—ΙΠ. Καὶ μάλα σφόδρα ἐπίστανται· διὰ ταῦτα καὶ κακουργοῦσιν.

—ΣΩ. ᾿Επιστάμενοι δὲ ταῦτα ἃ ἐπίστανται πότερον ἀμαθεῖς εἰσιν ἢ σοφοί;

—ΙΠ. Σοφοὶ μὲν οὖν αὐτά γε ταῦτα, ἐξαπατᾶν.

Pseudo-Phocylides, Sententiae

“Don’t trust the people;  the mob is many-wayed. For the people, water, and fire are all uncontrollable things.”

Λαῶι μὴ πίστευε, πολύτροπός ἐστιν ὅμιλος· λαὸς <γὰρ> καὶ ὕδωρ καὶ πῦρ ἀκατάσχετα πάντα.

Hesychius

Polytropos: One who [is turned] toward many things; or, someone who changes his understanding at each opportune moment.”

πολύτροπος· ὁ ἐπὶ πολλὰ τρεπόμενος, ἢ τρέπων τὴν ἑαυτοῦ διάνοιαν ὑφ’ ἕνα καιρόν

Image result for ancient Greek Odysseus

The point, I think, is that Odysseus is not someone who can be pinned down. He shifts for the situation but he also shifts for the reader/audience. (This is why I like “shifty”–it has the connotation of ‘dodgy’ in English, but it also evokes the movement of the character.) Odysseus is so popular, according to this argument, because he is a reflection of who we want him to be. Porphyry might have sensed this:

Schol HM 1.1 ex 62-74 (Attributed to Porphyry)

“If wise men are clever at speaking to others, then they also know how to speak the same thought in different ways; and, because they know the many different ways of words about the same matter. And if wise men are also good, then this is reason Homer says that Odysseus who is wise is many-wayed: he knew how to engage with people in many ways.

Thus Pythagoras is said to have known the right way to address speeches to children, to make those addresses appropriate for women to women, those fit for leaders to leaders, and those appropriate for youths to youths. It is a mark of wisdom to find the manner best for each group of people; and it is a mark of ignorance to use a single type of address toward people who are unaccustomed to it. It is the same for medicine in the successful use of its art, which fits the many-wayed nature of therapy through the varied application to those who need assistance. This manner of character is unstable, much-changing.

Many-wayedness of speech is also a finely crafted use of language for different audiences and it becomes single-wayed. For, one approach is appropriate to each. Therefore, fitting the varied power of speech to each, shaping what is proper to each for the single iteration, makes the many-wayed in turns single in form and actually ill-fit to different types of audiences, rejected by many because it is offensive to them.

εἰ δὲ οἱ σοφοὶ δεινοί εἰσι διαλέγεσθαι, καὶ ἐπίστανται τὸ αὐτὸ νόημα κατὰ πολλοὺς τρόπους λέγειν· ἐπιστάμενοι δὲ πολλοὺς τρόπους λόγων περὶ τοῦ αὐτοῦ πολύτροποι ἂν εἶεν. εἰ δὲ οἱ σοφοὶ καὶ ἀγαθοί εἰσι, διὰ τοῦτό φησι τὸν ᾿Οδυσσέα ῞Ομηρος σοφὸν ὄντα πολύτροπον εἶναι, ὅτι δὴ τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἠπίστατο πολλοῖς τρόποις συνεῖναι. οὕτω καὶ Πυθαγόρας λέγεται, πρὸς παῖδας ἀξιωθεὶς ποιήσασθαι λόγους, διαθεῖναι πρὸς αὐτοὺς λόγους παιδικούς, καὶ πρὸς γυναῖκας γυναιξὶν ἁρμοδίους, καὶ πρὸς ἄρχοντας ἀρχοντικούς, καὶ πρὸς ἐφήβους ἐφηβικούς. τὸ γὰρ ἑκάστοις πρόσφορον τρόπον ἐξευρίσκειν σοφίας εἶναι, ἀμαθίας δὲ τὸ πρὸς τοὺς ἀνομοίως ἔχοντας τῷ τοῦ λόγου χρῆσθαι μονοτρόπῳ. ἔχειν δὲ τοῦτο καὶ τὴν ἰατρικὴν ἐν τῇ τῆς τέχνης κατορθώσει, ἠσκηκυῖαν τῆς θεραπείας τὸ πολύτροπον, διὰ τὴν τῶν θεραπευομένων ποικίλην σύστασιν. τρόπος μὲν οὖν τὸ παλίμβολον τοῦτο τοῦ ἤθους, τὸ πολυμετάβολον. λόγου δὲ πολυτροπία καὶ χρῆσις ποικίλη λόγου εἰς ποικίλας ἀκοὰς μονοτροπία γίνεται. ἓν γὰρ τὸ ἑκάστῳ οἰκεῖον· διὸ καὶ τὸ ἁρμόδιον ἑκάστῳ τὴν ποικιλίαν τοῦ λόγου εἰς ἓν συναγείρει τὸ ἑκάστῳ πρόσφορον, τὸ δ’ αὖ μονοειδές, ἀνάρμοστον ὂν πρὸς ἀκοὰς διαφόρους, πολύτροπον ποιεῖ τὸν ὑπὸ πολλῶν ἀπόβλητον ὡς αὐτοῖς ἀπότροπον λόγον. H M1 Q R

Odysseus’ name itself has problems of interpretation–it is willfully interpreted in different ways by ancient audiences and is an object of play in the epic itself. Keep reading if you want even more of this.

Continue reading

Destroyer, Born on the Ground, Pitiable: Etymologies for Helen

In a choral ode from Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, we find a folk etymology implied for Helen’s name. Where I have translated “killer”, the Greek has versions of the aorist of αἵρεω (εἶλον) which, without its augment looks like the beginning of Helen’s name (ἑλ-).

 Aeschylus, Agamemnon 684-696

“Whoever pronounced a name
So thoroughly true?
Wasn’t it someone we’d not see
Guiding the tongue with luck
From a foreknowledge of fate?
Who named the spear-bride,
Struggled-over woman
Helen?
For, appropriately,
That ship-killer [hele-nas], man-killer [hel-andros]
City-killer [hele-ptolis], sailed
From her fine-spun, curtains
On the breath of great Zephyr
and many-manned bands
Of shield-bearers followed
The vanished journey struck
By the oars to the banks
Of leafy Simois
For a bloody strife.”

Χο. τίς ποτ’ ὠνόμαξεν ὧδ’
ἐς τὸ πᾶν ἐτητύμως—
μή τις ὅντιν’ οὐχ ὁρῶ-
μεν προνοί-
αισι τοῦ πεπρωμένου
γλῶσσαν ἐν τύχᾳ νέμων; —τὰν
δορίγαμβρον ἀμφινεικῆ
θ’ ῾Ελέναν; ἐπεὶ πρεπόντως
ἑλένας, ἕλανδρος, ἑλέ-
πτολις, ἐκ τῶν ἁβροπήνων
προκαλυμμάτων ἔπλευσε
Ζεφύρου γίγαντος αὔρᾳ,
πολύανδροί
τε φεράσπιδες κυναγοὶ
κατ’ ἴχνος πλατᾶν ἄφαντον
κελσάντων Σιμόεντος
ἀκτὰς ἐπ’ ἀεξιφύλλους
δι’ ἔριν αἱματόεσσαν.

Ancient etymologies do not follow this Aeschylean play.

Etym. Gudianum

“Helenê. From attracting [helkein] many to her beauty. Or it is from helô, helkuô, she is the one who drags young men to her personal beauty. Or it comes from Hellas [Greece]. Or it comes from being born on the ground [helos].”

     ῾Ελένη· … ἀπὸ τοῦ πολλοὺς ἕλκειν ἐν τῷ κάλλει αὐτῆς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἕλω, τὸ ἑλκύω, ἡ πρὸς τὸ ἴδιον κάλλος ἑλκύουσα τοὺς νέους ἀνθρώπους· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ῾Ελλάς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἐν ἕλει γεγεννῆσθαι.

Etym.  Magnum

“Helenê: A heroine. From helô, helkuô, she is the one who drags young men to her personal beauty. Or it comes from Hellas [Greece]. Or it comes from being born on the ground [helos]. Or because she was thrown in a marshy [helôdei] place by Tyndareus once she obtained some divine prescience and she was taken back up by Leda. Helenê was named from pity [heleos].”

     ῾Ελένη: ῾Η ἡρωΐς· παρὰ τὸ ἕλω, τὸ ἑλκύω, ἡ πρὸς τὸ ἴδιον κάλλος ἕλκουσα τοὺς ἀνθρώπους· διὰ τὸ πολλοὺς ἑλεῖν τῷ κάλλει· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ῾Ελλάς· ἢ παρὰ τὸ ἐν ἕλει γεγενῆσθαι, ἡ ὑπὸ τοῦ Τυνδάρεω ἐν ἑλώδει τόπῳ ῥιφθεῖσα, θείας δέ τινος προνοίας τυχοῦσα, καὶ ἀναληφθεῖσα ὑπὸ Λήδας. ᾿Εκ τοῦ ἕλους οὖν ῾Ελένη ὠνομάσθη.

Modern linguistics show that Helen’s name is just really hard to figure out.

Some Modern Material

In Lakonia, Helen was original spelled with a digamma. (And this may have extended to Corinth and Chalcidice too Cf. R. Wachter Non-Attic Vase Inscriptions 2001, §251).

74 Von Kamptz 1958, 136 suggests that her name is a “cognate of σέλας” to evoke a sense of “shining”, as in her beauty. Cf. Kanavou 2015, 72

Vedic Saranyu: Skutsch 1987, 189; Puhvel 1987, 141–143 (The initial breathing in Greek often points to a lost initial *s but the digamma in certain dialects confuses this) The Vedic name means swift. The PIE root suggested here is *suel-.

Helen has variously been suggested as coming from a vegetation goddess (see Helena Dendritis, Paus. 3.19.9–10; Herodotus 6.61; cf. Skutsch 1987) or a goddess of light.

 

Image result for Ancient Greek Helen

How Many Eyes Did The Cyclops Have? (The Answer Might Surprise You)

Erik has a beautiful post about the Cyclops Polyphemos. The scholia present some debates about what exactly a Cyclops looks like. 

Schol. ad Od. 9.106

“Aristotle examines how the Cyclops Polyphemos came to be a cyclops when neither his father nor his mother was a cyclops. He resolved the issue with a different myth. For, he asserted, horses came from Boreas but Pegasos was born from Poseidon and Medousa. Why, then, would it be strange that this wild beast be born from Poseidon? Similarly, other wild beasts were born from him in the sea, as well as marvels and unusual things.

Hesiod laughably etymologizes [the Kyklopes], saying “They were given the nickname Kyklopes / because they have one single circle eye in the middle of their forehead.” But Homer clearly describes  their nature.

For, if it was of that sort, just as he described the other particular features of the Cyclops, like his size, his cruelty, he would have also described his eye! Philoxenos says that he diverged from Hesiod in that the fact he could not see because he was blinded in one eye. For Homer does not say this about all the other Cyclopes. It is likely that Polyphemos lost his other eye for some other reason before Odysseus’ arrival.

Others oppose this, claiming that if he had two eyes and Odysseus blinded one, how would he say what is attributed to him, “Cyclops, if any mortal man asks you who is the blinder of your eye…” He does not say eyes. And in return the Cyclops says “My father is able to heal my eye.” For if he had another eye, properly, and Odysseus were speaking to him in this way, how would he not have taken care of the other eye? But he said “the earth-shaker will not heal [my] eye.” For this very reason people argue about his eye being completely pierced, because of what is said here, if he did not take care of the eye when it was first compromised, he would never be able to heal it.”

From the MFA in Boston, taken artfully on my phone.

 

ζητεῖ ᾿Αριστοτέλης πῶς ὁ Κύκλωψ ὁ Πολύφημος μήτε πατρὸς ὢν Κύκλωπος, Ποσειδῶνος γὰρ ἦν, μήτε μητρὸς, Κύκλωψ ἐγένετο. αὐτὸς δὲ ἑτέρῳ μύθῳ ἐπιλύεται. καὶ γὰρ ἐκ Βορέου ἵπποι γίνονται, καὶ ἐκ Ποσειδῶνος καὶ τῆς Μεδούσης ὁ Πήγασος ἵππος. τί δ’ ἄτοπον ἐκ Ποσειδῶνος τὸν ἄγριον τοῦτον γεγονέναι; ὥσπερ καὶ τὰ ἄλλα ἐξ αὐτοῦ ἀναλόγως τῇ θαλάσσῃ ἄγρια γεννᾶται ἢ τερατώδη ἢ παρηλλαγμένα. γελοίως δ’ αὐτοὺς ἐτυμολογεῖ ῾Ησίοδος “Κύκλωπες δ’ ὄνομ’ ἦσαν ἐπώνυμον, οὕνεκ’ ἄρω σφέων κυκλοτερὴς ὀφθαλμὸς ἕεις ἐνέκειτο μετώπῳ.” ὁ δ’ ῞Ομηρος φαίνεται φύσιν αὐτῶν λέγων· εἰ γὰρ ἦν τι τοιοῦτον, ὥσπερ τὰς ἄλλας ἰδιότητας τῶν ὀφθέντων ἔγραψεν ἐπ’ αὐτοῦ Κύκλωπος, τὸ μέγεθος, τὴν ὠμότητα, οὕτω κἂν τὸ περὶ ὀφθαλμοῦ ἔγραψε. φησὶ δὲ ὁ Φιλόξενος ὅτι ἐπλάνησε τὸν ῾Ησίοδον τὸ τὸν ἕνα ὀφθαλμὸν τυφλωθέντα μηκέτι ὁρᾶν. οὔτε δὲ περὶ πάντων τῶν Κυκλώπων εἶπε τοῦτο ῞Ομηρος, εἰκός τε τὸν Πολύφημον κατά τινα ἄλλην αἰτίαν τὸν ἕτερον τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν ἀπολωλεκέναι πρὸ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀφίξεως. οἱ δὲ ἀντιλέγοντες τούτῳ φασὶν, εἰ δύο εἶχεν ὀφθαλμοὺς καὶ τὸν ἕνα ᾿Οδυσσεὺς ἐτύφλωσε, πῶς συμφωνήσει τὸ ὑπ’ αὐτοῦ λεγόμενον, “Κύκλωψ, εἰ καί τίς σε καταχθονίων ἀνθρώπων ὀφθαλμοῦ εἴρηται ἀεικελίην ἀλαωτύν” (502.); οὐκ εἶπεν ὀφθαλμῶν. ἔτι δὲ καὶ τὸ προκείμενον παρὰ τοῦ Κύκλωπος, ὅτι δύναταί μου ὁ Ποσειδῶν ἰάσασθαι τὸν ὀφθαλμόν. εἰ γὰρ ἦν ἑτερόφθαλμος ἤδη ὑπάρχων, ἔλεγεν ἂν αὐτῷ ᾿Οδυσσεὺς, καὶ πῶς τὸν ἕτερον οὐκ ἐθεράπευσεν; ἀλλ’ εἶπεν “ὡς οὐκ ὀφθαλμόν γ’ ἰήσεται οὐδ’ ἐνοσίχθων” (525.). δι’ αὐτοῦ δὲ τούτου ἀπολογοῦνται περὶ τοῦ εἶναι αὐτὸν διόφθαλμον, διὰ τοῦ εἰπεῖν, εἰ τὸν πρῶτον πηρωθέντα ὀφθαλμὸν οὐκ ἐθεράπευσεν, οὐδὲ τοῦτον ἰάσεται. H.Q.

These are, of course, the types of investigations for which Seneca would have the most disdain:

Seneca, De Brevitate Vitae 13

“It would be annoying to list all the people who spent their lives pursuing board games, ball games, or sunbathing. Men whose pleasures are so busy are not at leisure. For example, no one will be surprised that those occupied by useless literary studies work strenuously—and there is great band of these in Rome now too. This sickness used to just afflict the Greeks, to discover the number of oars Odysseus possessed, whether the Iliad was written before the Odyssey, whether the poems belong to the same author, and other matters like this which, if you keep them to yourself, cannot please your private mind; but if you publish them, you seem less learned than annoying.”

Persequi singulos longum est, quorum aut latrunculi aut pila aut excoquendi in sole corporis cura consumpsere vitam. Non sunt otiosi, quorum voluptates multum negotii habent. Nam de illis nemo dubitabit, quin operose nihil agant, qui litterarum inutilium studiis detinentur, quae iam apud Romanos quoque magna manus est. Graecorum iste morbus fuit quaerere, quem numerum Ulixes remigum habuisset, prior scripta esset Ilias an Odyssia, praeterea an eiusdem essent auctoris, alia deinceps huius notae, quae sive contineas, nihil tacitam conscientiam iuvant sive proferas, non doctior videaris sed molestior.

Mocking the quibbles of scholars is where the pejorative use of the term ‘academic’ comes. This is an ancient tradition!

Athenaeus, Deipnosophistae 1.22

“You know that somewhere Timo the Philasian calls the Museum a birdcage as he mocks the scholars who are supported there because they were fed like the priciest birds in a big cage:

Many are fed in many-peopled Egypt,
The paper-pushers closed up waging endless war
in the bird-cage of the Muses.

ὅτι τὸ Μουσεῖον ὁ Φιλιάσιος Τίμων ὁ σιλλογράφος (fr. 60 W) τάλαρόν πού φησιν ἐπισκώπτων τοὺς ἐν αὐτῷ τρεφομένους φιλοσόφους, ὅτι ὥσπερ ἐν  πανάγρῳ τινὶ σιτοῦνται καθάπερ οἱ πολυτιμότατοι ὄρνιθες·

πολλοὶ μὲν βόσκονται ἐν Αἰγύπτῳ πολυφύλῳ
βιβλιακοὶ χαρακῖται ἀπείριτα δηριόωντες
Μουσέων ἐν ταλάρῳ.

Like Land to a Drowning (Wo)man?

Odyssey 23.230-242

“So she spoke, and his longing for mourning swelled within him—
He wept holding the wife fit to his heart, a woman who knew careful thoughts.

As when the land appears welcome to men as the swim
Whose well-made ship Poseidon has dashed apart on the sea,
As it is driven by the wind and a striking wave.
Then few men flee from the grey sea to the shore
As they swim and the bodies are covered with brine on their skin,
They happily climb on the shore, escaping evil.

So welcome a sight was her husband to her as she looked upon him
And she would not pull her white arms away from his neck.”

ὣς φάτο, τῷ δ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὑφ’ ἵμερον ὦρσε γόοιο·
κλαῖε δ’ ἔχων ἄλοχον θυμαρέα, κεδνὰ ἰδυῖαν.
ὡς δ’ ὅτ’ ἂν ἀσπάσιος γῆ νηχομένοισι φανήῃ,
ὧν τε Ποσειδάων εὐεργέα νῆ’ ἐνὶ πόντῳ
ῥαίσῃ, ἐπειγομένην ἀνέμῳ καὶ κύματι πηγῷ·
παῦροι δ’ ἐξέφυγον πολιῆς ἁλὸς ἤπειρόνδε
νηχόμενοι, πολλὴ δὲ περὶ χροῒ τέτροφεν ἅλμη,
ἀσπάσιοι δ’ ἐπέβαν γαίης, κακότητα φυγόντες·
ὣς ἄρα τῇ ἀσπαστὸς ἔην πόσις εἰσοροώσῃ,
δειρῆς δ’ οὔ πω πάμπαν ἀφίετο πήχεε λευκώ.

This simile is exceptional because it starts out making us think that it is about Odysseus but then shifts during its telling to be about Penelope’s reaction.

Image result for Medieval Manuscript woman swimming

St Omer Psalter, England (Norfolk), c. 1330-c. 1440, Yates Thompson MS 14, f. 70v 

 

“Your Father Does Not Dine With Us”: Orphanhood and Dehumanization

After the death of Hektor in Iliad 22, the poem moves to Andromache who gives a remarkable speech, most of which is occupied with thoughts of their son.

Iliad 22.482-507

“And now you go under the hidden places of the earth to Hades’ home,
But you leave me in hateful grief, a widow in our home—
And your child too, still an infant, the one we bore
You and I, ill-fated, Hektor, you will not be of any use to him
Since you have died, and he won’t be to you.

For even if he should escape the Achaeans’ war of many tears,
Still there would be toil and griefs for this child afterward.
For others will deprive him of his lands.

The day that makes a child an orphan separates him from his peers.
His looks down all the time; his cheeks are covered in tears;
And the child goes in need to his father’s friends,
Asking one for a cloak and another for a tunic.
He holds out his little cup while they pity him—
He can moisten his lips but never fill his hunger.

A luckier child chases him from the feast,
Striking him with his hands and laying into him with words:
“Go away—your father doesn’t dine with us.”

And the cheerful child will return to his widowed mother,
Atsyanax, who used to eat only marrow and the rich fat
Of sheep as he sat on his father’s needs.
Then when sleep would come over him, he would stop playing
And rest on a bed in the arms of a nurse, his heart full
Of everything good on that soft bed.

But now, he would suffer much once he has lost this dear father,
Astyanax, as the Trojans call him as a nickname,
For you alone defended their bulwarks and great walls.”

νῦν δὲ σὺ μὲν ᾿Αΐδαο δόμους ὑπὸ κεύθεσι γαίης
ἔρχεαι, αὐτὰρ ἐμὲ στυγερῷ ἐνὶ πένθεϊ λείπεις
χήρην ἐν μεγάροισι· πάϊς δ’ ἔτι νήπιος αὔτως,
ὃν τέκομεν σύ τ’ ἐγώ τε δυσάμμοροι· οὔτε σὺ τούτῳ
ἔσσεαι ῞Εκτορ ὄνειαρ ἐπεὶ θάνες, οὔτε σοὶ οὗτος.
ἤν περ γὰρ πόλεμόν γε φύγῃ πολύδακρυν ᾿Αχαιῶν,
αἰεί τοι τούτῳ γε πόνος καὶ κήδε’ ὀπίσσω
ἔσσοντ’· ἄλλοι γάρ οἱ ἀπουρίσσουσιν ἀρούρας.
ἦμαρ δ’ ὀρφανικὸν παναφήλικα παῖδα τίθησι·
πάντα δ’ ὑπεμνήμυκε, δεδάκρυνται δὲ παρειαί,
δευόμενος δέ τ’ ἄνεισι πάϊς ἐς πατρὸς ἑταίρους,
ἄλλον μὲν χλαίνης ἐρύων, ἄλλον δὲ χιτῶνος·
τῶν δ’ ἐλεησάντων κοτύλην τις τυτθὸν ἐπέσχε·
χείλεα μέν τ’ ἐδίην’, ὑπερῴην δ’ οὐκ ἐδίηνε.
τὸν δὲ καὶ ἀμφιθαλὴς ἐκ δαιτύος ἐστυφέλιξε
χερσὶν πεπλήγων καὶ ὀνειδείοισιν ἐνίσσων·
ἔρρ’ οὕτως· οὐ σός γε πατὴρ μεταδαίνυται ἡμῖν.
δακρυόεις δέ τ’ ἄνεισι πάϊς ἐς μητέρα χήρην
᾿Αστυάναξ, ὃς πρὶν μὲν ἑοῦ ἐπὶ γούνασι πατρὸς
μυελὸν οἶον ἔδεσκε καὶ οἰῶν πίονα δημόν·
αὐτὰρ ὅθ’ ὕπνος ἕλοι, παύσαιτό τε νηπιαχεύων,
εὕδεσκ’ ἐν λέκτροισιν ἐν ἀγκαλίδεσσι τιθήνης
εὐνῇ ἔνι μαλακῇ θαλέων ἐμπλησάμενος κῆρ·
νῦν δ’ ἂν πολλὰ πάθῃσι φίλου ἀπὸ πατρὸς ἁμαρτὼν
᾿Αστυάναξ, ὃν Τρῶες ἐπίκλησιν καλέουσιν·
οἶος γάρ σφιν ἔρυσο πύλας καὶ τείχεα μακρά.

I was profoundly moved by this speech for its vividness and terrible irony long before I was a parent myself. The first time I read this passage in Greek as I prepared for my PhD exams, I wept while completing it. As a parent now, I struggle even to think about reading it. The terrible irony of course is that Astyanax is actually killed by the victors before he can suffer the deprivations his mother predicts, although she does fear this fate:

Iliad 24.732–738

“You, child, will also either follow me
Where you will toil completing the wretched works
Of a cruel master or some Achaean will grab you
And throw you from the wall to your evil destruction
Because he still feels anger at Hektor killing his brother
Or father or son, since many a man of the Achaeans dined
On the endless earth under Hektor’s hands.”

… σὺ δ’ αὖ τέκος ἢ ἐμοὶ αὐτῇ
ἕψεαι, ἔνθά κεν ἔργα ἀεικέα ἐργάζοιο
ἀθλεύων πρὸ ἄνακτος ἀμειλίχου, ἤ τις ᾿Αχαιῶν
ῥίψει χειρὸς ἑλὼν ἀπὸ πύργου λυγρὸν ὄλεθρον
χωόμενος, ᾧ δή που ἀδελφεὸν ἔκτανεν ῞Εκτωρ
ἢ πατέρ’ ἠὲ καὶ υἱόν, ἐπεὶ μάλα πολλοὶ ᾿Αχαιῶν
῞Εκτορος ἐν παλάμῃσιν ὀδὰξ ἕλον ἄσπετον οὖδας.

In the popular tradition the one who carries out the killing of Astyanax is Odysseus, that ‘hero’ of that other epic who gets to go home to his own son and father. If the way we talk about and treat our enemies dehumanizes them—and us—what does it mean when we murder, torture, or harm children?

In the future Andromache imagines, Astyanax is marginalized even among his own people by the loss of his father–he loses his status, his friends, and his former happiness. But in a foreign land, he loses all hope of happiness–he is a slave to another if he is lucky to be alive. I have to ask myself every time I read this whether or not an orphaned child is significantly better off today.

I can’t stop thinking about some of the details that surfaced last week about the separation of children from families by the US Government at our borders and within them. This is not some new legacy of course—from slavery through the devastation of indigenous families up into the modern judicial system and its enforcement of the new (and old) “Jim Crows”, we have a powerful and inescapable legacy of separating children from families. This creates an essential cognitive dissonance. You cannot be ‘pro-family’ and tear families apart.

Image result for astyanax greek vase

I know that there has been extensive prevarication about the extent and severity of these separations. I don’t want to hear more of this because it all just amounts to fragile attempts of denial and blame shifting. We are obliterating families for being unlucky, brown-skinned, poor, and on the wrong side of man-made borders. We can’t comfort ourselves that our essential goodness has changed much in a few thousand years.

You Might Even Say It’s Good To Be King: Odysseus’ Geras

Odysseus on his geras, 11.174–176:

“Tell me of the father and son I left behind,
does my geras still belong to them or does some other man
already have it because they think I will not come home?”

εἰπὲ δέ μοι πατρός τε καὶ υἱέος, ὃν κατέλειπον,
ἢ ἔτι πὰρ κείνοισιν ἐμὸν γέρας, ἦέ τις ἤδη
ἀνδρῶν ἄλλος ἔχει, ἐμὲ δ’ οὐκέτι φασὶ νέεσθαι.

From Beekes 2010

geras

Telemachus on Eurymakhos, 15.518–522:

“… Eurymakhos, the shining son of sharp-minded Polyboios,
whom the Ithakans now look upon the way they would a god.
He is by far the best man remaining and the best
to marry my mother and receive my father’s geras.”

Εὐρύμαχον, Πολύβοιο δαΐφρονος ἀγλαὸν υἱόν,
τὸν νῦν ἶσα θεῷ ᾿Ιθακήσιοι εἰσορόωσι·
καὶ γὰρ πολλὸν ἄριστος ἀνὴρ μέμονέν τε μάλιστα
μητέρ’ ἐμὴν γαμέειν καὶ ᾿Οδυσσῆος γέρας ἕξειν.”

Antinoos on kingship, 1.383–387:

“Then Antinoos, the son of Eupeithes, answered him,
“Telemachus, the gods themselves have taught you
to be a big speaker and to address us boldly.
May Zeus never make you king in sea-girt Ithaca
which is your inheritance by birth.”

τὸν δ’ αὖτ’ ᾿Αντίνοος προσέφη, Εὐπείθεος υἱός·
“Τηλέμαχ’, ἦ μάλα δή σε διδάσκουσιν θεοὶ αὐτοὶ
ὑψαγόρην τ’ ἔμεναι καὶ θαρσαλέως ἀγορεύειν.
μὴ σέ γ’ ἐν ἀμφιάλῳ ᾿Ιθάκῃ βασιλῆα Κρονίων
ποιήσειεν, ὅ τοι γενεῇ πατρώϊόν ἐστιν.”

Telemachus on his geras, 1.388–398:

“Antinoos, even if you are annoyed at whatever I say,
I would still pray to obtain this should Zeus grant it.
Do you really think that this is the worst thing among people?
To be king is not at all bad. A king’s house grows rich quickly
and he is more honored himself. But, certainly, there are other kings of the Achaeans, too, many on sea-girt Ithaka, young and old,
who might have this right, since shining Odysseus is dead.
But I will be master of my household and my servants,
the ones shining Odysseus obtained for me.”

“᾿Αντίνο’, εἴ πέρ μοι καὶ ἀγάσσεαι ὅττι κεν εἴπω,
καί κεν τοῦτ’ ἐθέλοιμι Διός γε διδόντος ἀρέσθαι.
ἦ φῂς τοῦτο κάκιστον ἐν ἀνθρώποισι τετύχθαι;
οὐ μὲν γάρ τι κακὸν βασιλευέμεν· αἶψά τέ οἱ δῶ
ἀφνειὸν πέλεται καὶ τιμηέστερος αὐτός.
ἀλλ’ ἦ τοι βασιλῆες ᾿Αχαιῶν εἰσὶ καὶ ἄλλοι
πολλοὶ ἐν ἀμφιάλῳ ᾿Ιθάκῃ, νέοι ἠδὲ παλαιοί,
τῶν κέν τις τόδ’ ἔχῃσιν, ἐπεὶ θάνε δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς·
αὐτὰρ ἐγὼν οἴκοιο ἄναξ ἔσομ’ ἡμετέροιο
καὶ δμώων, οὕς μοι ληΐσσατο δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς.”

Some things to read

Elton Barker. Entering the Agôn: Dissent and Authority in Homer, Historiography and Tragedy. Oxford, 2009.

Colleen Chaston. “Three Models of Authority in the “Odyssey”.” CW 96 (2002) 3-19.

J. Halverson. “The Succession Issue in the Odyssey.” Greece and Rome 33 (1986) 119–28.

Johannes Haubold. Homer’s People: Epic Poetry and Social Formation. Cambridge: 2000.

Daniel Silvermintz. “Unravelling the Shroud for Laertes and Weaving the Fabric of the City: Kingship and Politics in Homer’s Odyssey.” Polis 21 (2004) 26-41.

Iliad vs. Odyssey? An Essential Complementarity

A few days back I ran a twitter poll setting the Iliad against the Odyssey. I figured that the Iliad would win, but I did not expect this to be as close as it was.

If we were to evaluate the popularity of the epics based on their mentions (using the Google ngram function), we would see that a few centuries ago, the Iliad had a pretty impressive lead over the Odyssey.

ngram

Here’s a different Ngram provided by Kyle Sanders ()which indicates the Odyssey overtook the Iliad in the late 1960s

NGram od 2

In the past century the mentions of the epics started to draw closer together. Is this because more people had less experience of war? Is there something more modern or simpler about the Odyssey?

the manuscript tradition for the Iliad is much better–there are more copies surviving from almost every period for which we have evidence. The epics were different enough that Samuel Butler (only partly joking) proposed that the Odyssey was composed by a woman. The epics differences were sensed in antiquity as well. Here’s how Aristotle puts it:

Aristotle, Poetics, 1459b

“for [Homer’s] two poems are complementary in structure, the Iliad being simple in plot and a poem of passion, and the Odyssey complex (it has recognitions throughout) and a poem of character; moreover they surpass all other poems in excellent of language and thought.”

πρῶτος καὶ ἱκανῶς. καὶ γὰρ τῶν ποιημάτων ἑκάτερον συνέστηκεν ἡ μὲν ᾿Ιλιὰς ἁπλοῦν καὶ παθητικόν, ἡ δὲ ᾿Οδύσσεια πεπλεγμένον (ἀναγνώρισις γὰρ διόλου) καὶ ἠθική· πρὸς δὲ τούτοις λέξει καὶ διανοίᾳ πάντα ὑπερβέβληκεν.

To pit one poem against another is, to my mind, to imagine a combat between day and night, land and sea, or life and death. These contrasts can be seen as polar–opposites canceling each other out–or they can be treated as binary where one can only exist because the other is there first. But it may be best not to think of them at all in terms of opposition, but instead as contrastive complements. This works on the level of content:

“This complementarity extends into other areas too. The so-called Monro’s Law states that the Odyssey never refers to any incident recounted in the Iliad, which at the very least strongly suggests that the Odyssey knew of the Iliad and deliberately stayed off its territory. Indeed, at the times when the Odyssey threatens to sing of Iliadic material, the moments are marked as highly problematic.” Barker and Christensen 2013

For all the years I have taught Homer in literature and myth courses, I have emphasized their complementarity in slightly different ways. Sometimes, I follow Aristotle’s emphasis on plots, pointing out that the Iliad ends in a funeral and the Odyssey ends in a wedding, anticipating in turn the plot structures of tragedy and comedy respectively. At other times, I have instead described the Iliad as a poem of death and the Odyssey as a poem of life. The former explores what is (and mostly what isn’t) worth fighting and dying for; the latter helps s understand what we live for and who we are outside of war.

Together, the epics teach how to live and how to die. One is essentially and forever incomplete without the other. But in concert, they reflect on the totality of life. (And I am so bold as to believe that this characteristic is part of why these two epics surpassed all others and survived antiquity: any other epic from their period would have been redundant).

I spent the first decade or more of my study of Homer passionately dedicated to the Iliad. I started working on the Odyssey primarily because I found students responding to it more easily than to the Iliad. I also grew more interested in how that epic engaged with other traditions, specifically those of Thebes and the so-called epic cycle. And then, when writing an introductory book about the epic with my friend Elton Barker, I was forced to think more deeply about the Telemachy and the importance of the reunions in epic’s second half.

But what really changed my relationship with the Odyssey was my own life. When I was writing on the Iliad in the 2000s, we were living a new state of war, sending our soldiers from the west to kill and be killed in a dwindling “coalition of the willing” in the east. The Iliad made sense to me. I used to mock the Odyssey too as that ‘other’ epic.

In 2010-11, I taught that other epic three times. We also welcomed two children into the world and lost my father to a sudden sickness in between. There is nothing like losing a parent and becoming one in the same year to force a reconsideration of life. These years also marked half a decade in Texas and a decade since I left New England. The Odyssey‘s exploration of who we are and nostalgia started to resonate with me like never before.

But I also started to see more in the epic itself. If the Iliad is a raging maelstrom of fire and blood, the Odyssey is a lit fuse which may or may not ever lead to a detonation. If the Iliad is loud and brash and confusing, the Odyssey is so subtle that many of us make the mistake of thinking it is simple. It is extremely sensitive to human mental function, to how we create ourselves through narrative, and to the therapeutic function of stories.

In antiquity, traditions of allegory were extremely influential among various approaches to the epics. Among these, one of my favorite readings of the epics as complements frames one as a narrative concerned with the development and excellence of the body and the other about the virtues of the mind.

Pseudo-Plutarch, De Homero 31–32

“Of these poems, the Iliad features the acts of the Greeks and the Barbarians over the abduction of Helen, especially the valor demonstrated by Achilles in that war; the Odyssey details Odysseus’ return home from the Trojan War and how much he endured wandering during his nostos and how he avenged himself on those plotting against him in his home. From these summaries it is clear that the Iliad is really about the bravery of the body while the Odyssey concerns the nobility of the soul.

It is not right to fault the poet if he does not only present virtues in his poem, but includes as well weaknesses of spirit, pains, pleasures, fears and desires. For it is necessary that the poet show not just noble characters but weak ones too—without these unexpected accomplishments do not appear—from all of these it is possible that an audience will choose the better ones.”

ὧν ἡ μὲν ᾿Ιλιὰς ἔχει τὰς ἐν ᾿Ιλίῳ πράξεις ῾Ελλήνων τε καὶ βαρβάρων διὰ τὴν ῾Ελένης ἁρπαγὴν καὶ μάλιστα τὴν ᾿Αχιλλέως ἐν τῷ πολέμῳ τούτῳ διαδειχθεῖσαν ἀλκήν, ἡ δὲ ᾿Οδύσσεια τὴν ᾿Οδυσσέως ἀνακομιδὴν εἰς τὴν πατρίδα ἀπὸ τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου καὶ ὅσα πλανώμενος ἐν τῷ νόστῳ ὑπέμεινε καὶ ὅπως τοὺς ἐπιβουλεύοντας τῷ οἴκῳ αὐτοῦ ἐτιμωρήσατο. ἐξ ὧν δῆλός ἐστι παριστὰς διὰ μὲν τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἀνδρείαν σώματος, διὰ δὲ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας ψυχῆς γενναιότητα.

     Εἰ δὲ μὴ μόνον ἀρετὰς ἀλλὰ καὶ κακίας ψυχῆς ἐν ταῖς ποιήσεσι παρίστησι, λύπας τε καὶ χαρὰς καὶ φόβους καὶ ἐπιθυμίας, οὐ χρὴ αἰτιᾶσθαι τὸν ποιητήν· <ποιητὴν> γὰρ ὄντα δεῖ μιμεῖσθαι οὐ μόνον τὰ χρηστὰ ἤθη ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ φαῦλα (ἄνευ γὰρ τούτων παράδοξοι πράξεις  οὐ συνίστανται), ὧν ἀκούοντα ἔνεστιν αἱρεῖσθαι τὰ βελτίω.

Of course, not all contrasts made between the two epics were positive. (Pseudo)-Longinus believed that the differences in the poem were results of the senility of the Iliad poet as he turned to the Odyssey.

From (Ps.) Longinus On the Sublime, 9.11-13

“Nevertheless, all through the Odyssey, which must be examined for many reasons, Homer reveals that as great inspiration fades away, storytelling becomes the dominant attribute of old age. For it is clear in many ways that this epic was composed second. Throughout the Odyssey we find episodes modeled on scenes from the Iliad, and, by Zeus, he apportions his heroes grief and misery as if these tales were long already known. The Odyssey is nothing other than an epilogue to the Iliad:

There lies fierce Ajax; here lies Achilles
There likes Patroklos, an advisor equal to the gods,
There lies my own dear son. (Od. 3.109-111)

The cause of this fact, I imagine, is that when the Iliad was being written at the peak of his strength, Homer imbued the whole work with dramatic power and action; when he was composing the Odyssey, however, he made it more of a narrative, as appropriate for old age. For this reason, you can compare the Odyssey’s Homer to a setting sun: the magnitude remains without its power.  Since, in it, he no longer preserves the same power of the Iliad, that overwhelming consistency which never ebbs, nor the same rush of changing experiences, the variety and reality of it, packed full with things from true experience. It is as if the Ocean were to withdraw into itself, quietly watching its own measure. What remains for us is the retreating tide of Homer’s genius, his wandering in storytelling and unbelievable things. When I claim this, I am not forgetting the storms in the Odyssey and the events placed near the Kyklopes and elsewhere—I am indicating old age, but it is still Homer’s old age. And, yet, the mythical overpowers in every one of these scenes.”

δείκνυσι δ’ ὅμως διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας (καὶ γὰρ ταῦτα πολλῶν ἕνεκα προσεπιθεωρητέον), ὅτι μεγάλης φύσεως ὑποφερομένης ἤδη ἴδιόν ἐστιν ἐν γήρᾳ τὸ φιλόμυθον. δῆλος γὰρ ἐκ πολλῶν τε ἄλλων συντεθεικὼς ταύτην δευτέραν τὴν ὑπόθεσιν, ἀτὰρ δὴ κἀκ τοῦ λείψανα τῶν ᾿Ιλιακῶν παθημάτων διὰ τῆς ᾿Οδυσσείας

ὡς ἐπεισόδιά τινα [τοῦ Τρωικοῦ πολέμου] προσεπεισφέρειν, καὶ νὴ Δί’ ἐκ τοῦ τὰς ὀλοφύρσεις καὶ τοὺς οἴκτους ὡς πάλαι που  προεγνωσμένοις τοῖς ἥρωσιν ἐνταῦθα προσαποδιδόναι. οὐ γὰρ ἀλλ’ ἢ τῆς ᾿Ιλιάδος ἐπίλογός ἐστιν ἡ ᾿Οδύσσεια·

ἔνθα μὲν Αἴας κεῖται ἀρήιος, ἔνθα δ’ ᾿Αχιλλεύς,
ἔνθα δὲ Πάτροκλος, θεόφιν μήστωρ ἀτάλαντος·
ἔνθα δ’ ἐμὸς φίλος υἱός.

ἀπὸ δὲ τῆς αὐτῆς αἰτίας, οἶμαι, τῆς μὲν ᾿Ιλιάδος γραφομένης ἐν ἀκμῇ πνεύματος ὅλον τὸ σωμάτιον δραματικὸν ὑπεστήσατο καὶ ἐναγώνιον, τῆς δὲ ᾿Οδυσσείας τὸ πλέον διηγηματικόν, ὅπερ ἴδιον γήρως. ὅθεν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ παρεικάσαι τις ἂν καταδυομένῳ τὸν ῞Ομηρον ἡλίῳ, οὗ δίχα τῆς σφοδρότητος παραμένει τὸ μέγεθος. οὐ γὰρ ἔτι τοῖς ᾿Ιλιακοῖς ἐκείνοις ποιήμασιν ἴσον ἐνταῦθα σῴζει τὸν τόνον, οὐδ’ ἐξωμαλισμένα τὰ ὕψη καὶ ἱζήματα μηδαμοῦ λαμβάνοντα, οὐδὲ τὴν πρόχυσιν ὁμοίαν τῶν ἐπαλλήλων παθῶν, οὐδὲ τὸ ἀγχίστροφον καὶ πολιτικὸν καὶ ταῖς ἐκ τῆς

ἀληθείας φαντασίαις καταπεπυκνωμένον· ἀλλ’ οἷον ὑποχωροῦντος εἰς ἑαυτὸν᾿Ωκεανοῦ καὶ περὶ τὰ ἴδια μέτρα †ἐρημουμένου τὸ λοιπὸν φαίνονται τοῦ μεγέθους ἀμπώτιδες κἀν τοῖς μυθώδεσι καὶ ἀπίστοις πλάνος. λέγων δὲ ταῦτ’ οὐκ ἐπιλέλησμαι τῶν ἐν τῇ ᾿Οδυσσείᾳ χειμώνων καὶ τῶν περὶ τὸν Κύκλωπα καί τινων ἄλλων, ἀλλὰ γῆρας διηγοῦμαι, γῆρας δ’ ὅμως ῾Ομήρου· πλὴν ἐν ἅπασι τούτοις ἑξῆς τοῦ πρακτικοῦ κρατεῖ τὸ μυθικόν.

I think Longinus is on to something here. But rather than being a sign of senility, the Odyssey‘s differences are indications of maturity. I don’t mean ‘mature’ as a sign of greater progress, necessarily; but I mean that the Odyssey is a poem that appeals more to those who have lived more in life, who have, like its hero, “suffered much on the seas and learned the minds of many people”.

So, if I had to save only 1, I would save the Odyssey, not because it is better than or superior to the Iliad but because its existence presupposes the existence of the other. And, one is, for better or worse, currently more meaningful to me.

The Sweetest Day and the Marriage of the Sun

Homer, Od. 6.181-185

“May the gods grant as much as you desire in your thoughts,
A husband and home, and may they give you fine likemindness,
For nothing is better and stronger than this
When two people who are likeminded in their thoughts share a home,
A man and a wife—this brings many pains for their enemies
And joys to their friends. And the gods listen to them especially”

σοὶ δὲ θεοὶ τόσα δοῖεν, ὅσα φρεσὶ σῇσι μενοινᾷς,
ἄνδρα τε καὶ οἶκον, καὶ ὁμοφροσύνην ὀπάσειαν
ἐσθλήν· οὐ μὲν γὰρ τοῦ γε κρεῖσσον καὶ ἄρειον,
ἢ ὅθ’ ὁμοφρονέοντε νοήμασιν οἶκον ἔχητον
ἀνὴρ ἠδὲ γυνή· πόλλ’ ἄλγεα δυσμενέεσσι,
χάρματα δ’ εὐμενέτῃσι· μάλιστα δέ τ’ ἔκλυον αὐτοί.

Hipponax, Fr. 68

“A woman has two days which are the sweetest:
When someone marries her and when someone carries her out dead.”

δύ᾿ ἡμέραι γυναικός εἰσιν ἥδισται,
ὅταν γαμῇ τις κἀκφέρῃ τεθνηκυῖαν.

Babrius, Fable 24: Frogs at the Sun’s Wedding

“It was the time of the wedding of the summer Sun
And the animals held charming revels for the god.
Even the frogs were putting on choruses in their pond.
But a toad stopped and said to them, “this is no time
For our hymns of praise! This is for worry and grief.
For the sun nearly dries up every pool when he is alone—
What kind of evils we will suffer if, once he’s married,
He fathers a child who is something like himself?

Many people, thanks to an excess of empty-headedness
Delight at things which in the future they will not love, to the extreme.”

Γάμοι μὲν ἦσαν Ἡλίου θέρους ὥρῃ,
τὰ ζῷα δ᾿ ἱλαροὺς ἦγε τῷ θεῷ κώμους.
καὶ βάτραχοι δὲ λιμνάδας χοροὺς ἦγον·
οὓς εἶπε παύσας φρῦνος “οὐχὶ παιάνων
τοῦτ᾿ ἐστὶν ἡμῖν, φροντίδων δὲ καὶ λύπης·
ὃς γὰρ μόνος νῦν λιβάδα πᾶσαν αὐαίνει,
τί μὴ πάθωμεν τῶν κακῶν ἐὰν γήμας
ὅμοιον αὑτῷ παιδίον τι γεννήσῃ;”
Χαίρουσι πολλοὶ τῶν ὑπερβολῇ κούφων
ἐφ᾿ οἷς ἄγαν μέλλουσιν οὐχὶ χαιρήσειν.

Euripides,  Fr. 464

“Get married already, get married, and then die
Either by poison or a trick from your wife.”

γαμεῖτε νῦν, γαμεῖτε, κᾆτα θνῄσκετε
ἢ φαρμάκοισιν ἐκ γυναικὸς ἢ δόλοις.

Hipponax Fr. 182

“The strongest marriage for a wise man
Is to take a woman of noble character—
This dowry alone safeguards a home.
[But whoever takes a fancy woman home…]

The wise man has a partner instead of a mistress
A woman with a good mind, reliable for a lifetime.”

γάμος κράτιστός ἐστιν ἀνδρὶ σώφρονι
τρόπον γυναικὸς χρηστὸν ἕδνον λαμβάνειν·
αὕτη γὰρ ἡ προὶξ οἰκίαν σώιζει μόνη.
ὅστις δὲ †τρυφῶς τὴν γυναῖκ’ ἄγει λαβών

<                                 >

συνεργὸν οὗτος ἀντὶ δεσποίνης ἔχει
εὔνουν, βεβαίαν εἰς ἅπαντα τὸν βίον.

Embracing the Dead: Homer, Vergil and Macrobius for AP Latin Week

Odyssey 11.204-222

“So she spoke but as I pondered this in my thoughts,
I wanted to clutch the soul of my departed mother.
Three times I reached out as my heart urged me to embrace her,
And three times she drifted from my hands like a shadow
Or a dream. The grief in my heart only grew sharper
And I spoke to her, uttering winged words.

“Mother, why don’t you wait as I come to hold you,
So we may even in Hades throw our arms around another
And have our fill together of cruel grief?
Or is it that dread Persephone sends only this ghost to me
So I may groan, grieving still more?”

So I spoke and my lady mother responded right away:
“Oh, my child, most ill-fated of all men,
Zeus’ daughter Persephone does not allow you things,
This is the law of mortals whenever they die.
We possess no tendons, flesh or bones—
Those things the strong force of burning fire
Consumed, and when the spirit first leaves its white bones,
The soul flits about and flies like a dream.”

ὣς ἔφατ’, αὐτὰρ ἐγώ γ’ ἔθελον φρεσὶ μερμηρίξας
μητρὸς ἐμῆς ψυχὴν ἑλέειν κατατεθνηυίης.
τρὶς μὲν ἐφωρμήθην, ἑλέειν τέ με θυμὸς ἀνώγει,
τρὶς δέ μοι ἐκ χειρῶν σκιῇ εἴκελον ἢ καὶ ὀνείρῳ
ἔπτατ’· ἐμοὶ δ’ ἄχος ὀξὺ γενέσκετο κηρόθι μᾶλλον,
καί μιν φωνήσας ἔπεα πτερόεντα προσηύδων·
‘μῆτερ ἐμή, τί νύ μ’ οὐ μίμνεις ἑλέειν μεμαῶτα,
ὄφρα καὶ εἰν ᾿Αΐδαο φίλας περὶ χεῖρε βαλόντε
ἀμφοτέρω κρυεροῖο τεταρπώμεσθα γόοιο;
ἦ τί μοι εἴδωλον τόδ’ ἀγαυὴ Περσεφόνεια
ὤτρυν’, ὄφρ’ ἔτι μᾶλλον ὀδυρόμενος στεναχίζω;’
ὣς ἐφάμην, ἡ δ’ αὐτίκ’ ἀμείβετο πότνια μήτηρ·
‘ὤ μοι, τέκνον ἐμόν, περὶ πάντων κάμμορε φωτῶν,
οὔ τί σε Περσεφόνεια Διὸς θυγάτηρ ἀπαφίσκει,
ἀλλ’ αὕτη δίκη ἐστὶ βροτῶν, ὅτε τίς κε θάνῃσιν.
οὐ γὰρ ἔτι σάρκας τε καὶ ὀστέα ἶνες ἔχουσιν,
ἀλλὰ τὰ μέν τε πυρὸς κρατερὸν μένος αἰθομένοιο
δαμνᾷ, ἐπεί κε πρῶτα λίπῃ λεύκ’ ὀστέα θυμός,
ψυχὴ δ’ ἠΰτ’ ὄνειρος ἀποπταμένη πεπότηται.

Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.13

“What do you make of the fact that all of Vergil’s work is made as sort of mirroring of Homer’s”?

Quid, quod et omne opus Virgilianum velut de quodam Homerici opus speculo formatum est?

Aeneid, 6.700-2

“Three times I tried there to wrap my arms around his neck,
Three times his ghost fled the empty closure of my hands,
Something like a blowing breeze or a flying dream.”

Ter conatus ibi collo dare brachia circum,
ter frustra comprensa manus effugit imago,
par levibus ventis volucrique simillima somno.

These lines in the underworld are repeated from Aeneas’ description of his flight from Troy when he bursts back into the city and encounters the ghost of Creusa.

Macrobius (Saturnalia 5.4 ) lists this a one of many passages adapted from Homer. But in his version, he offers a slightly different version of the Latin. Instead of the line listed in most MSS (2.794=6.702) Macrobius has Par levibus ventis volucrique simillima fumo, “similar to light winds and something like floating smoke”.

In his commentary, John Connington doesn’t make much of this variation. He does mention another.

Commentary on 2.792-794

[794] Hom.’s words are σκιῆ εἴκελον ἢ καὶ ὀνείρῳ. Virg., in talking of sleep, probably has a dream in his mind. In any case there is no probability in Macrobius’ (Sat. 5. 5) misquotation ‘fumo,’ which Wakef. adopts. The Medicean of Pierius has a curious variety, “Par levibus pennis volucrique simillima vento.”

Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.14-15

“Has it been proved to you that Vergil cannot be understood by someone who is ignorant of the sound of Latin and is equally distant to one who has not drunk Greek learning deep with the fullest thirst?

If I did not fear making you antsy, I could fill huge volumes with the material he translated from the most obscure Greek teachings. But these assertions are enough to support the thesis I have proposed.”

probatumne vobis est Vergilium, ut ab eo intellegi non potest qui sonum Latinae vocis ignorat, ita nec ab eo posse qui Graecam non hauserit extrema satietate doctrinam?

nam si fastidium facere non timerem, ingentia poteram volumina de his quae a penitissima Graecorum doctrina transtulisset implere: sed ad fidem rei propositae relata sufficient.’

Image result for Medieval manuscript Vergil

%d bloggers like this: